The presence of God

Exodus 33:13-23

St. Stephen’s & St. Agnes School


The Rev. Dr. Rosemary Beales

No one can see the face of God and live.

That’s what God told Moses on top of Mount Sinai. Moses was as close to God as anyone, and yet even he was not allowed to see God’s face. God wasn’t being mean when he said that; God was being merciful. Have you been told that if you look directly at the sun for more than a few seconds, you’ll damage your eyes? It’s like that. God’s glory is so bright, so intense, that human beings can’t take it directly. So we experience it in other ways.

Moses saw God’s glory from a distance, when God told him to stand in the cleft of the rock, that is, an opening. God kindly offered to cover Moses with his hand as God’s glory passed by, “and you shall see my back,” God said. And Moses knew that if he saw God’s back, he could follow God all the days of his life.

Even though no one can see God’s face, many of you have your own ideas about what God might look like. I am lucky to see those ideas when you draw or paint them and invite me to look.

Imagining what God might look like is one way to meditate on the presence of God, the presence that was all around Moses, and is all around us. The Bible is full of stories of people who knew something of God’s presence, even though they couldn’t see God directly.

This week and last week, many of you heard the story of Abram and Sarai, who later became Abraham and Sarah. Some of you remember that story from other years or have read it for yourselves. Once Abram came so close to God and God came so close to Abram, that Abram knew what God wanted him to do. God wanted Abram and Sarai to go to a new place that God would show them. So they set out, not knowing where they were going, and wondering if God would go with them.

Do you remember what happened next? Abram and Sarai stopped at a place called Shechem. They prayed, and they found that God was in that place, so they marked that place with a stone for an altar to show where God was. They came to Bethel, and they prayed, and they found that God was in that place, too, and they marked that place with an altar. They were learning that God was not just in the places where they had met God before, but that God’s presence went with them wherever they went.

And it’s not just people in the Bible who can feel and hear and sense God’s presence. It’s also you, and me. If you think quietly for a moment, you might remember a place and a time when you felt especially close to God. Think. (SILENCE). If you couldn’t think of anything this minute, that’s OK. Keep listening – silence helps — and keep watching for those moments when you are especially awake to God’s presence. I wonder how you’ll mark that place in your memory.

Since it’s not just people in the Bible who have the presence of God, I want to tell you about a time when a very ordinary person, a very, very ordinary person, felt God’s presence. Before I came to our school, long before you were born, I had a different kind of job. I was a journalist, which means that I told stories; but not the kind I tell today. J I wrote stories in newspapers and magazines. I really liked that work, but like anyone on any day, some days I just didn’t feel like going to work. (Does that ever happen to you?)

This happened at a time when I was learning to tell Godly Play stories, in fact, I was learning by heart the story of Abram and Sarai. And as I lay in bed thinking about the problems of the day ahead at the magazine, I heard in my head the words of that story, “God is in that place too.” God WAS in that place too, and from that day on, I looked differently at my work.

Years later, on a foggy and empty beach, God came close to me again, and gave me the courage to leave that job. God’s presence led me on the journey that would one day lead me here, to you. (TBTG)

In a few minutes we’ll sing a song about the many ways of knowing God. And today, when we sing, “Surely the presence of the Lord is in this place,” I hope you will feel it all around you. May the presence of God go with you today and all the days of your life.                Amen.

About threegreatdays

The Rev. Dr. Rosemary Beales is a Godly Play Trainer in the U.S.; an Episcopal Priest; Chaplain at St. Stephen's & St. Agnes School in Alexandria, Virginia; a Godly Play Practitioner since 1996; and a mother and grandmother. Every day I get to be with 400 children at school and on weekends when I'm lucky, with my four terrific grandsons and three lively granddaughters. As a Godly Play practitioner, I want to spread the word about this life-giving, Montessori-based way of nurturing children in the Christian story and life. Godly Play, the creation of the Rev. Dr. Jerome Berryman and his wife Thea, is used in many denominations and in many countries, and has been translated into at least seven languages. This blog is not an official publication of the Godly Play Foundation (see but seeks to be a clearinghouse for ideas and experiences of teachers, trainers, and parents. Join the conversation!

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